To say that Titans’ second season premiere was a disappointment would be... fair, honestly. It wasn’t an unforgivably-bad hour of superhero television, but it also made the show seem as if it had somehow lost that imaginative X factor that’s made other DC Universe series like Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn shine. Thankfully, the series’ latest episode “Rose” is a solid return to form.
While “Trigon” ultimately ended up being hamstrung by its narrative connection to Titans’ last season, “Rose” feels like the proper beginning to a new chapter in the Titans lives in part because the episode introduces the slightest of time jumps that gives the entire cast a chance to become new versions of themselves. Now operating out of San Francisco, Dick’s turned the Titans into what essentially amounts to a Boys and Girls Club for Metas, Mystics, and Angry Orphans.
Though it’s only been a few months since they were all literally possessed by a demon who planned to usher in the apocalypse, everyone’s settled into a comfortable family kind of dynamic that Titans has always needed to succeed in the longterm even though it wasn’t clear at first how the show was going to get everyone into that space.
To be fair, “Rose” doesn’t exactly do much in the way of illustrating how Donna and Kory became a friendly crimefighting duo or when the younger Titans began to accept Dick as their new pseudo-mentor and the episode really requires you to believe that all that character development occurred rather quickly. But after a slow season of everyone gradually coming together, falling out, and coming together again, it’s just refreshing to see everyone stepping into more dynamic, vibrant roles that promise interesting things to come.
Following her confrontation with Trigon, Rachel’s become a much more reflective and mature person who has a keen sense of what it is that everyone on the team is feeling, though she’s not quick to share what she knows. The Titans are in a good space. Different as they are, Gar and Jason get along well enough and have a rough-and-tumblr kind of friendship that seems genuine. Though Rachel’s energy’s vastly different than theirs, she enjoys their company all the same and knows that Dick only wants what’s best for them, but she can sense that there’s a powerful tension between Dick and Gar that’s left over from Dick’s attempt to kill the shapeshifter. Rachel understands Gar’s inability to address his complicated feelings about Dick because she’s in something of a similar situation herself.
As the first of this newest group of Titans-in-training who sought him out and put on the path towards mentorship, Rachel understandably feels a degree of responsibility for being a part of what really helped pull Dick out of the anger-fueled depression that first drove him out of Gotham. As the two teens are confiding in one another about their feelings, the two Robins take some time to hash their own issues out and acknowledge some of the elephants in the room like the father figure they both share. Dick offhandedly mentioning that Jason’s been watching something inappropriate on the Batcave’s computer is the kind of small character detail that makes you appreciate that they’re not just different Robins, they’re people at different stages in life. Dick understands where Jason’s penchant for being an asshole comes from—he’s been there himself—but he knows that that can’t be the end of a young hero’s development, which is what he fundamentally wants the Titans as an organization to be focused on.
Dick has more than a few moments in “Rose” that echo writer Tom King’s version of a Nightwing whose primary concern is helping people. Not just “helping” in the traditional heroic sense, but literally leading with “how can I help” as a core part of his identity. Dick wants to help Jason become the best Robin he can be, to keep Rachel on the right path, and to make things right with Gar. But at the same time, Dick’s still not exactly taking care of himself and just before he gets a chance to sit with that reality, yet another young person in need to assistance comes crashing onto the scene, drawing his attention.
While Rose Wilson (Chelsea Zhang) is more than capable of dispatching a handful of armed police officers with nothing but her hands, she’s far from invincible and what she really needs is a place to lay low. When Dick finds her passed out in an alleyway with the cops still searching for her, he does exactly what you’d expect from the former Boy Wonder and brings her back to Titans Tower just so that she has somewhere to rest and recover. What’s interesting about Rose’s presence in the town (aside from the obvious Deathstroke foreshadowing) is the way she forces the trio of younger Titans to recognize that they have, in fact, become something of a weird family, and the prospect of someone new joining makes them all feel differently.
For her part, Rose simply wants to leave the Tower because she knows that she stays there long enough, the person that’s hunting her (who identity she won’t divulge to Dick) will eventually find her and kill whoever dares to stand between then. There’s a seriousness and urgency to Rose’s demands to leave because Dick can see the danger written all over her and in the way she’s clearly been trained to kill. Whenever she’s a part of, it’s out of the ordinary and likely to end up with someone dead. But from Dick’s perspective, Rose is in a rather similar predicament to Rachel’s when he first met her and his immediate instinct is to swoop in and try to help.
While “Rose” is definitely a step up from “Trigon” it does still show some of the growing pains Titans is going through in its second season that are connected to the fact that its cast has gotten so big. While all of this is going down in and around the Titans Tower, Donna and Kory are off doing their best Cagney and Lacey apprehending street-level baddies and bonding over their both being non-humans. While Donna’s more or less the same since we last saw her, Kory’s gone through something of a drastic change on a script-level because she now seems to know a hell of a lot more about Tamaran, who she was there, and why she may never want to go back. Kory’s amnesiac, fish-out-of-water phase was fun for a while, but it’s much more interesting to see her interacting with Earth from a more informed perspective, and it makes her encounter with a fellow Tamaranian sent to capture her that much more interesting when he shows up.
Hawk and Dove are similarly getting into interesting things in their neck of the woods involving an ordeal with an impossibly cool interpretation of Doctor Light, but all the nifty special effects in the world can’t help “Rose” from feeling a bit too overstuffed. But overstuffed is an infinitely better state of being for a show than substantively lacking, meaning that “Rose” is nothing if not a step in the right direction for Titans.
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